Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers
Published: 2011 by Harper Perennial
Source: Received from the publisher for review
There are days when I pine for a smartphone. The ability to be able to check my e-mail, Facebook and Twitter accounts wherever and whenever I wanted to seems like a good thing to me. The fact that I check them several times during the day anyways on my computer and very little happens between each check and that I rarely have my current "dumb" phone on and yet still rarely miss calls should be a sign that maybe that new shiny gadget isn't a priority in my life.
Reading Hamlet's BlackBerry has reinforced this justification to stay behind that trend-following curve, at least for a while longer. William Powers is far from a technophobe and I think that is what makes this book so interesting and useful. Not only does he take examples from his own life on his experiences in occasional "unplugging" (disconnecting from the Internet for entire weekends, for example), he also goes back into history and profiles the contemporary "technology" of seven great thinkers from Plato to Walden to Marshall McLuhan that provide lessons for us in the current era. I especially appreciated his thoughts on Seneca, who encourages us not to allow outside distractions to disturb one's focus on the task at hand:
For me, that means ignoring the e-mail and social media when I am in the midst of any work or personal project; and to give proper attention to the book I am reading now rather than think of the (many, many) other books sitting on my shelf that I want to read. Right now that is still easier said than done -- old habits die hard -- but I am aware of these tendencies in myself and when I have made the effort to focus on the task at hand it is not as difficult to complete.I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it. There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within.
Ultimately, technology is a great tool but should be used in conjunction with the other ones that civilization has given us over the centuries.